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Notre Dame Football

Marcus Freeman Question-and-Answer from Notre Dame's Open Practice

March 26, 2022
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After Saturday morning’s fully open practice inside the Irish Athletics Center, Notre Dame’s fifth of spring, first-year head coach Marcus Freeman met with media for a 15-minute question-and-answer session.

Q: What have you seen from the first five practices?

MF: It’s a physical group that I’m trying to continue to teach them exactly how we want them to practice. And you can’t just tee off on each other all the time, and it’s hard. Because I’m trying to push the competitiveness but also being able to take care of each other. So that’s kind of where my mindset is right now. How do we practice really hard, really competitive but be able to take care of each other.

That’s why you liven it up a little bit at the end so that you don’t have to pull them back, but it’s a really good group. I love the way they’re flying around. I love what our offense is doing, being able to try and establish the run-game and play-action pass. They’re so multiple, multiple formations, motions.

 

Defensively, we’re doing a lot of different things. What you see is, Coach Golden has added his NFL experience, his experience as a coordinator, just to be able to have different situational football defense. We had obviously in the red zone today, a couple different things we’re doing defensively. Our kids are grasping it. I’ll go back and see how many (missed assignments) we had and stuff like that, but our kids are really grasping what the coordinators are wanting on both sides of the ball. And special teams-wise, it was good to see those guys make those field goals. It’s really good to see.

Q: What have you seen from TaRiq Bracy?

MF: Consistency. He’s a guy that’s playing multiple positions in terms of corner, nickel. It’s his senior year, his last year, and I don’t think that he’s really performed to his expectations over time. This is something where he truly wants to develop his game and be the best.

Q: What has Brandon Joseph added?

MF: He’s added obviously a great play on that interception, and he’s added a guy that’s done it at a high level. He’s really intelligent; he’s under control. It’s good to see a guy play fast, but under control. That’s the challenge. How can you play fast but under control? People might say it’s an oxymoron, but it’s not. Play fast until you have to be under control. That’s the challenge, I think defensively, that I’m really, really homing in on. Brandon Joseph is a great example. Play fast but under control so that you can make that play when you’re at the point of attack.

Q: Injury updates on Colzie, Tyree, et. Al?

MF: Tyree had a little ankle sprain. Maybe it was last practice; he could have gone today, but we held him out because we were going live. Colzie, he had a concussion. He had a concussion, hit the ground early in one of the first two practices. He’ll be back the next practice. So today was his non-contact day. Joe Wilkins, they said he was going to be fine. Just got rolled up a little bit. Same thing with Lorenzo Styles, got the wind knocked out of him.

Q: Do you hold your breath when a guy like Styles gets popped so hard?

MF: Oh yeah, oh yeah. You’re going from attack mode, being on defense, just we gotta be dominant, to how do you take care of your player, how do you take care of your team. That’s kind of where my mindset has shifted to.

Q: Carmody’s work at center?

MF: It’s good, it’s good. The more things he can do, the more value he brings. So a guy that was thrown into the center position, probably a week before spring ball, he’s done an excellent job and he’s getting better and better. It just shows the versatility that he possesses, tackle, guard, center. He can do it all.

Q: There was some jawing between Blake Fisher and the defense. You pull him back any or like that approach?

MF: I like it, I like the energy it provides. Didn’t see anybody fighting, saw some guys chirping. It’s spring. It’s one thing to have intensity to you and to bring emotion to practice. But when we start fighting, now we’re taking away from preparation. So, I love the energy, love the emotion. Pushing to the end, it’s really, really good to see.

Q: What’s the benefit of having Zack Martin hanging around practice an extra day?

MF: It’s great. It just shows the impact Harry Hiestand has had on the guys as coach. You’ve got one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL to really spend time with Harry Hiestand but also our players. So that tells you instantly the credibility of Coach Hiestand. I think it’s amazing that he’s been around, and he’s not the only former player to come around. I think it’s great for our current players to really, really learn from the best but also see the respect that the best in the NFL have for Coach Hiestand.

Q: Why is it important for you to bring back the former players and welcome in the former players?

MF: They built this place. For any person to come in here and act like this is about one person, you’re crazy. It’s about the people that have come and bled and that have built Notre Dame to the place it is. This is their home, and it will always be their home. So I want to make sure it’s clearly communicated that they’re always welcome back here. They’re the season why we’re in the position that we’re in. I only think it’s right to make sure those guys know it’s always an open door.

Q: What’s their impact on current players?

MF: Amen. And that to me is just the power of the network, the power of the Notre Dame network. You’ve got a guy like Zack Martin coming around practice, guess what? Zack Martin gives back to the current players. So you’ve got those current players getting information from one of the best to do it. So that’s what you want to create, is that network of guys that have done it at the level that everybody here wants to do it. Guys that are successful not only in football but in life. They’re coming back and paying it forward to our current players.

Q: Have former players expressed excitement about your welcoming them back into the program?

MF: I think they like hearing that there’s an open door. But I don’t need somebody to come say thank you. Just come back. Thank me by coming back and being around our players. That’s all I hope they do.

Q: Where are you at evaluating the young corners?

MF: Right now, Bellamy got a hamstring pull the first day of practice. He’s been on the sidelines a little bit. Mickey’s been really good, he’s shown, he’s flashed. He’s done a really, really good job. Even Barnes is showing up, and Philip Riley. All those guys are showing up. It’s going to be competition, healthy competition. And somebody’s’ going to have to continue to rise to the top. Mickens has done an excellent job with that young group of corners. Obviously you have Cam Hart out, TaRiq Bracy has stepped up. It’s that young group that somebody’s going to have to emerge from it.

Q: What’s your impression thus far of Audric Estime’s spring?

MF: Big diesel truck, man. He runs hard. He’s low center of gravity. He’s one of those guys that if I played linebacker, ‘OK, you gotta buckle up really tight. He’s a load.’ The thing I love about him is that I haven’t seen him put the ball on the ground. I think the running backs room has done a great job with ball security. Finish your runs, because the defense are trying to punch the ball every play. Coach Golden has brought an intensity to trying to create takeaways, and the running back room has done a great job of ball security.

Q: How do you strike that balance between highly physical play but also controlling it, especially in intrasquad work?

MF: It’s not, again, it’s not … I’m not going to make them soft. It’s just being smart. How do you practice smart. Right? If you can prevent injuries by practicing smart, that’s what my focus is. It’s not to say, ‘Hey, let’s not get hurt. It’s how can we make sure we practice but be smart with the way we practice.’

The same thing with Lorenzo Styles. I would love for DJ (Brown) at that point to probably not hit him when he’s not looking, but again, it’s continue to show them, every day in our team meetings, here’s great teaching plays. Here’s what I want, here’s not what I want. It’s like I told them after practice, as long as you believe the things we’re telling you, not sitting there rolling your eyes, like OK whatever, but I can see the things we’re telling you. I can see how I can make a more intelligent play to make sure we take care of each other. That’s what you have to keep showing them.

Q: We talk often about players developing leadership but what have you seen from a leadership standpoint from Tommy Rees, as he’s tasked with overseeing an all-new offensive staff?

MF: It’s been really good. I really enjoy going to his unit meetings. I just sit in there and listen to him address the entire offense. He has a presence about him. He’s very, very clear on his expectations. Even on the field, he brings an intensity. That’s the natural quarterback, leadership that he has in him. But it’s even more vocal, you know what I mean? He’s truly the vocal leader of that offense and making sure everybody is on the same page.

Q: You’re a young head coach, he’s a young coordinator. What kind of leadership skills do you have to possess in that situation, when you’ve got assistants working for you like Tommy does with say a Harry Hiestand who has three decades or more coaching experience?

MF: It comes down to trust, man. Comes down to trust. If players trust you, you can say whatever you want. Harry Hiestand can push his guys to the limit because they all trust him. The guys that want to yell and scream and players don’t trust you, you’re just yelling at a brick wall. It’s not going to do anything. But if your guys trust you, you can push them as far as they want to go.

That’s to me what any coach, I don’t care if it’s Harry Hiestand, Marcus Freeman or Tommy Rees, gain the trust and push them as far as they can go.

Q: Where does JD Bertrand fit into the defense as he gets out of his cast? What’s the impact of James Laurinaitis helping with the defense?

MF: It’s great, you’ve got a guy that’s played at the highest level that’s a graduate assistant. It’s the greatest thing that our GAs can coach. He’s learning the off-the-field, in terms of computer-stuff, but I think he’s also learning the teaching progression. How do you teach? The credibility is right there. He’s got it because he’s done it. He can tell those guys things he’s seen playing at the highest level. I think he’s doing an excellent job with that group of linebackers, helping Coach Golden out.

JD’s going to fit, Mike, Will, it doesn’t matter. He’s going to be one of the best linebackers, and he’ll find his place on our defense on the field for sure.

Q: How do you help Mayer reach that next level?

MF: How do you get Mike Mayer the work he needs to improved. Because he has to improve; Mike Mayer’s not a finished product. Mike Mayer has to improve but also we’ve got to be smart with how we use him. That’s the real challenge. What reps, what situations does Mike Mayer need versus get him out, get some other guys in there, to help them grow.

Again, I think just playing the position, how can he continue to get better at blocking, catching, route-running, defensive recognition. All those different things. I’ve talked to Coach (Gerad Parker) at length about it, and they’re continuing to make him grow, challenging and pushing him outside his comfort zone in terms of film and in the meeting room. He’s done a great job.

Q: How has Prince Kollie progressed?

MF: Good. You know, I hear Coach Golden talk about him a lot in terms of how natural he is at the linebacker position. Those are things I saw last year when we moved him from Rover to Will, I saw that he’s got some natural linebacker instincts. HE’s continued to progress. This is practice five, and you see him every day getting better.

Q: How do you feel your QBs worked today, first impressions?

MF: Good. It’s so hard sometimes to evaluate at that quarterback position. As a defensive guy, you look for touchdowns and interceptions, right? But it’s decision-making. That’s the thing I hear sitting with Coach Rees and meeting with those guys. ‘OK, did he make the right decision?’ That’s the No. 1 thing, is he making the right decisions. No. 2, is he taking care of the football. But it’s still starting with decision-making. They’ve got a lot on their plate, and I thought they did a good job.

Q: What have you seen from the younger linebackers?

MF: They’re versatile, all four of those guys are versatile. They all do things really, really well. But they’re all swimming a little bit, they’re young. They also should be seniors in high school, and they’re learning a big defensive playbook. Coach Golden is not slowing down, he’s throwing it in there, getting it in there. They’ve got a lot on their plate, but they do some really good things in terms of playing linebacker, going to the edge, their pass-rush drops. They’re versatile.

Q: How do you work on improving your tackling so that it’s ready to go Day 1 when the season arrives in the fall?

MF: I think as you see, even in our opener of practice, every day we have an opener in terms of it’s some type of ball security or tackling drill. We’re trying to emphasize it in practice, we had live periods today to work on tackling, but it’s just going to be a continued point of emphasis.

Q: The linebackers discussed what they’ve learned watching NFL film from Coach Golden. Have you sat in on those meetings? What’s the benefit there?

MF: I’m sure some of that film is Laurinaitis trying to show his own film when he was in the NFL, right? Just trying to talk about his glory days. Some of the cut-ups are NFL clips because they’re coming from the Bengals. I think it’s cool because all of our players want to be at that level, so any time you have a chance to put on an NFL film, this is the best. It’s same thing we do in college, but it’s NFL players. I don’t see in a lot of individual meetings. I sit in a lot of the staff meetings and unit meetings, but again, it’s all continuing to find different ways to teach them. If you can use NFL clips or Laurinaitis can use clips of himself, I think that still is going to be a unique way to help them learn.

 

 
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